MASKED armed robbers raided a travel agents before fleeing with stolen cash.

Terrified staff at the Thomas Cook in Market Street, Farnworth, were confronted by three men at around 5pm on Tuesday.

Passersby sprung to the aid of staff and tried to trap the culprits inside and distract them from the robbery.

A fourth man was waiting outside as a getaway driver.

All four of the men were wearing masks and at least one was armed with an axe.

A police spokesman said one of the men had something in a bag and a member of staff ‘presumed it was a firearm’.

The men managed to steal a small quantity of money from the shop before they fled in the car.

An eyewitness, who did not wish to be named, was one of three men who tried to intervene during the armed robbery.

He said he had been dropped off nearby and was walking past when he saw an Audi A4 drive past the shop and then reverse back towards it.

He saw it had one flashing headlight and that he even considered going to tell the driver it was broken.

The man said: “Three guys have jumped out and ran in to Thomas Cook and the driver has stayed in the car.

“Myself and another guy were banging on the windows trying to get them to stop but they were having none of it.

“There was a third guy trying to hold the door shut so they could not get out.”

The man said that the driver realised what was happening and jumped out of the car before running at the man holding the door shut with a hammer, forcing him to jump out the way.

The witness said the men were only in the shop for around two minutes before they made their getaway in the car.

He said: “It is just what you do, would you rather stand there and do nothing or or do something? What else was I supposed to do?”

Simon Findlow, Farnworth neighbourhood police officer, said staff were understandably extremely shaken by the incident.

The Thomas Cook branch was closed today and the glass in the front door has been damaged.

PC Findlow said: “We are doing our best to try and apprehend those responsible.”

No arrests have been made and inquiries are continuing into the raid.

A spokesman for Thomas Cook said: “We can confirm that a robbery took place at our Farnworth store on Tuesday, January 9. All persons present during the incident are safe and unharmed.

“The safety of our staff and customers remains our priority and we are working with the police to assist them with their investigation.”